Could bin Laden have been tried like Eichmann?

Much has been said and written this week about the fact that Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot and killed.

I haven’t heard anything like outrage, but a lot of, well, mild discomfort.

The general feeling seems to be “I’m glad his dead, he got what he deserved, and I hope it brings some sense of closure to 9/11 families and the nation, but…could he have been taken alive?”

So I want to highlight a brief but provocative column on the subject by Deborah Lipstadt, the author of a new book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann. An interesting parallel, no?

She writes in the Forward:

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Adolf Eichmann was responsible for the murder of close to 1.5 million Jews. Bin Laden had far less blood on his hands. And while both men wished to kill as many Jews as possible, bin Laden was, of course, also interested in killing any American or “Westerner” he could. Each man was ferreted out, in the end, by forces operating clandestinely on foreign soil. Both operations were decisive, swift and successful.

But, of course, what happened to bin Laden and Eichmann after each was located was radically different. One was shot and killed on the spot; the other was put on trial.

It was not inevitable, however, that this would be Eichmann’s fate. It was a decision by David Ben-Gurion that prevented Eichmann from ending up like bin Laden and having justice delivered immediately, with a bullet to the head.

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Lipstadt writes about the presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial, Moshe Landau, a member of Israel’s High Court, trying to make the trial normal and undramatic. “The evidence and the testimony would be emotional enough; he did not have to add anything to it,” she writes.

Lipstadt can’t help wondering what a bin Laden trial would have looked like. Military or civilian? Judging by the difficulty that the Obama administration has faced in trying to decide what to do with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, the decisions over what to do with bin Laden would have been riveting and enormously challenging.

She concludes with this: “While I am not sorry that bin Laden was shot, I regret that he never was shown the wonders of a democratic system of justice. It would have been the best response to the culture of death and hatred that this man represented.”

(AP photo)

How much celebration is too much over bin Laden’s death?

My son’s 4th-grade class spent some time yesterday discussing how much gloating and celebrating one should do over the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It’s an interesting question.

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from religious groups asking the same thing.

The National Council of Churches offers: “Osama Bin Laden is dead. Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances. The NCC’s 37 member communions believe the ultimate justice for this man’s soul — or any soul — is in the hands of God. In this historic moment, let us turn to a future that embraces God’s call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people.”

An Orthodox (Chabad) rabbi says: “So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.”

The Rev. Doug Leonard, former pastor of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, is now director of the Al-Amana Centre, an interfaith center in the Sultanate of Oman, a Muslim nation. He sent me an email early today that included this:

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The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death spread quickly yesterday morning in the coffee shops, streets and offices of Oman and was accompanied by cheerful talk and a sense of relief among Omanis.

Here are two representative quotes I heard yesterday as I spoke with Omani government officials, business leaders and people on the street about the news: “This is a day to celebrate.  Justice has been done today.”

As the day turned to evening in Oman, morning came to America.  I was sitting with some friends from Oman drinking spiced coffee.  They were surfing the internet on their laptops, following the tweets from America and watching You Tube videos of the demonstrations at the white house and ground zero as Americans began their day.  My Omani friends became saddened and confused by as they saw Americans linking the death of Osama bin Laden with a victory against Islam.

One of my friends whose cheer turned to dismay as he saw the American response on line, said, “If a man commits a crime, we punish the man, not his family or his town or the people of the nation he comes from.  Why are so many Americans holding all Arabs and all Muslims in suspicion?”

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Now get this.

An email I got this afternoon from the United Methodist Church noted that a British Methodist and hymn-writer has already written a hymn about bin Laden’s death.

It’s called “We Cannot Gloat: A Time for Grief.”

I can’t seem to get the plug-in to download it, but if you go here, you can try or simply read the lyrics from a PDF.

The writer is named Andrew Pratt. According to a bio, he has written several hymns about 9/11 and other tragedies. It notes: “He lost his only son (age 22) in an accident. He feels empathy with people caught up in tragic situations.”

The hymn begins:

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We cannot gloat; a time for grief, another mother’s son is dead, and

if that son has killed and maimed, it is the better least is said; but

let us mourn for all the loss, and stand in shadow of the cross.

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(AP Photo/Andy Colwell)